“Celestial Bird” is more than an album — it’s a present. In celebration of Panufnik’s 50th birthday, this release brings together ten of her previously unrecorded choral works.  The music is all fairly recent, dating from 2013 through 2018. And it shows the wide-ranging interests of the composer.

St. Pancras Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis is a fine example of her sacred choral writing, drawing on — but not limited by — choral tradition.  Her Christmas Carol, “A Cradle Song” is a quiet, beautiful lullaby that should appeal to most community and church choirs.

Jeffrey Skidmore and Ex Cathedra commission two works on the album. “Since We Parted” marks the centenary of the end of World War I. The sparing use of trumpet, harp, cello, and piano add to the poignancy of the music.  The second commission, “Child of Heaven,” uses Indian modes to create an undulating line that runs through the work, tying the various motifs together.

The album opens with “Unending Love,” a work for choir, Indian violin, percussion, sitar, and Carnatic singer. Panufnik’s always been interested in other cultures, and as this work shows, she’s no dilettante. The music gives the Western choir and the Indian performers common ground, letting them work together to create something greater than both parts.

It’s a wonderful work. My only complaint is that “Unending Love” ends far too soon. Classical Indian music can easily run 30 minutes or longer. “Unending Love” clocks in at 9:14. It’s a sonic world I would have enjoyed visiting for another 10 minutes or so.

Happy Birthday to Roxanna Panufnik, and many happy returns. The birthday may be hers, but the present, “Celestial Bird,” is ours to enjoy.

Roxanna Panufnik: Celestial Bird
Ex Cathedra
Milapfest
Jeffrey Skidmore, conductor
Signum Classics SIGCD543